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How to grow Swedes, or rutabaga: a most dangerous vegetable

Marianne Cannon

Marianne Cannon

July 27, 2013

Did you know that a Swiss botanist Gaspard Bauhin in 1620, found this vegetable growing wild in Sweden? So yes, Swedes do come from Sweden, including Swede the vegetable. Another interesting fact about this vegetable is it doesn’t seem to have a long history, well unless you consider dating back to the1600s not long, which it isn’t compared to some vegetables. Brassica napus variety (var.) napobrassica, is called rutabaga in the USA, but never referred to as turnip. Rutabaga is a corruption of the Swedish for turnip-cabbage.

Swede or rutabaga. Photo pin add

Swede or rutabaga. Photo pin add

Turnip Photo the bittnenword.com

Turnip Photo the bittnenword.com

 

Turnips and swedes are both members of the cabbage family and are closely related to each other – so close that it’s not surprising that their names are often confused. For instance, swedes are sometimes called Swedish turnips or swede-turnips. How do you tell the difference between Turnips and Swedes? For one, turnips are usually smaller than Swedes, about the size of a golf ball, with creamy white, smooth skin. Some turnips have a smooth, silky skin that’s coloured white, with a purple or reddish top. The flesh is white and has a peppery taste.

Swedes are a lot bigger, roughly the size of a shoe. Its rough skin is creamy white and partly purple, with a distinctive ‘collar’-that shows the multiple leaf scars. The Swede also has a hint of yellow-orange inside the actual vegetable.

Swede InvitationAdvanta

Swedes showing distinctive leaf-scar collar

 

Here’s a bit of trivia for you from a very recent article in the UK Telegraph reporting on a poll on home accidents in the kitchen.

A survey found two-thirds of injuries in the kitchen come from preparing fresh vegetables like squash and turnip that are too difficult to cut. Almost a quarter said pumpkins were the toughest vegetable to skin and chop while a fifth said swedes were the most dangerous. Two in five participants said they had injured themselves trying to imitate TV chefs when slicing vegetables, the research found.
So it came as no surprise that root foods had topped a poll of the most dangerous vegetables. Don’t let that deter you!

Another surprise is that the Swede vegetable is a cross between a turnip and a cabbage. So how it came to be growing in the wild in Sweden is anybody’s guess. If you were a lover if haggis you might already know that the Scottish call it “neeps” and serve it with haggis. Swede us a full flavoured veggie with a savoury aftertaste. Under-rated as a vegetable, its smooth and creamy texture is a welcome surprise in your cooking.

How and when to grow Swede and Rutabaga

You might’ve guessed that the Swede is a winter vegetable. In Australia you can sow Swedes from February until November it temperate and cool districts, April until August in arid zones, and only May to July in sub-tropical and tropical areas. You might find some garden books suggesting not to sow Swedes at these times, but those books are probably written for northern hemisphere gardens. Seed suppliers also recommend the dates I’ve given.

Rutabaga casserole, with tuna and beetroot Photo Tiia Monto

Rutabaga casserole, with tuna and beetroot Photo Tiia Monto

 

Turnips are easy to grow but swedes are easier. Sow the seeds of Swedes into any prepared soil, they’ll even grow in heavy soil as long as the water drains away fairly quickly. As with carrots, don’t put in fresh compost or manures when you sow Swede seeds, or you’ll get the usual forking or hairy Swedes! Swedes need good levels of trace elements, so add a dusting of these either from a packet, or as a seaweed spray if your soil is poor or sandy. Without enough trace elements, your Swedes might be tasteless, bitter and brown inside.
TIP: Swedes resent transplanting, just like carrots, parsnips and turnips. Sow the seeds directly into the veggie bed.

Neeps near Grangemill UK. Photo by Dan

Neeps near Grangemill UK. Photo by Dan

Your Swedes will be ready in three to four months after planting. But you can pick them at whatever size you like – small is good, as is larger. It doesn’t matter. In cold areas, Swedes are best left in the ground and pulled out as you need them. They grow on top of, not under, the ground. Otherwise, pick them and store them as you would potatoes.

Yates Seeds 'Champion Purple Top'

Where do you get Swede seed? In Australia from Diggers Club, Yates Seeds, Eden Seeds; New Zealand from King Seeds; South Africa from Organic Seeds; UK from Unwins Seeds or Suttons Seeds. For rutabaga seed in the USA, try Burpee, Johnny’s Selected Seeds and High Mowing Organic Seeds.

Why is it good for you? 1/2 cup cooked swede is a serve, and is a good source of vitamin C and fibre, folate and potassium. Swedes are quite filling but are low in kilojoules, with only 85kJ per 100g (2/3 cup).

 

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georgette lynch
georgette lynch
6 years ago

I love this veggie, and have ever since I was a child a million years ago.
It is a staple, along with turnips, parsnips, carrots and potatoes whenever roasted veg. is in the meal. My favorite however is to boil them with the potatoes and then mash them with a little butter and milk. It cuts down on the calories and starch of the potatoes while adding wonderful flavour to a side dish. I also do this with carrots and parsnips, depending on what else I am making that day. Like I said, I love it.

Marianne Cannon
6 years ago

Hello Georgette,
great to hear of favourite dish. I’ll be sure to mention it next time I’m talking about Parsnips on my radio show.

Marianne

David
David
3 years ago

Love eating Swede… mixed with potato mash…and in a Pasty… unfortunately in Australia.. they’re very very small sometimes showing signs of green skin… taste is not the same as in European grown Swedes

Julie Thomson
10 years ago

Thanks Marianne. Just popped one in the slow cooker where a minestrone is in the making.

Marianne Cannon
10 years ago
Reply to  Julie Thomson

Enjoy! I always put some Swede in with Pea and ham soup!

Carol Wrightman
Carol Wrightman
10 years ago

Swede, carrot and red lentils make a lovely soup which my Mum called Golden Soup for its lovely rich colour, tastes great too.

Catherine Stewart
Admin
10 years ago

Oh yum yum, Carol, that sounds so good. Please give us the recipe!

Marianne Cannon
10 years ago

Yes, Carol the recipe please!

Suzi
Suzi
6 years ago

You’re hysterical! See, gardening can be fun☺

Barbara McMahon
Barbara McMahon
4 years ago

I make. a kraut out of them. Once fermented they store in the fridge until I feel like latkes, yum!

Catherine Stewart
Admin
10 years ago

I’ve never grown or even cooked a swede Marianne, but now I see it with haggis, I’m irresistibly attracted. Damn these Scottish genes…..

Colin
Colin
2 years ago

The time is nigh for Scots to buy their rutabagas, or swedes, or swede
turnips as they are called by the older generations in Scotland (pronounced suede turnip)
The 25th January is Burns’ birthday, and throughout the world people will be celebrating with a Burns Supper. This consists of Haggis, tatties, and neaps.
Neaps being rutabagas.
The tatties are mashed ( champit ), and the neaps also mashed
( bashit )
So the Haggis is accompanied by champit tatties and bashit neaps.
Some chefs will combine the neaps and tatties, and this is called clapshot.
Purists do not combine. Neither do they swamp the dish with sauce, whisky or otherwise.
Whisky is for drinking with the meal.
I hasten to add that the meal need not be restricted to once a year. In our house we use any excuse to have it.
Lang may yer lum reek